Who am I? is a question that technically gives rise to a lot of other questions which are important to be analyzed. They also hold a potential gift in their hands to lead to a better self-inquiry. However, one must be careful not to get into a loop of these questions that lead wayward to a different goal, in that they take one away from the Self than closer.
Having noted this, lets move on to see what these questions are:
i) Whence am I?
The initial question of Who am I? has no direct answer for us mortals. That, therefore, leads to a parallel question of Whence am I? Anybody who has done any troubleshooting knows that to know what (an insentient equivalent of the sentient who) is it, has an interrelated question of where did it come from? (Either may be answered first, of course). To a newbie, one may be as hard as other; while for some seekers, one might be an easier problem to inquire into, if not solve, than the other. Having solved one, even so to an extent, the other becomes an easier one to delve into.
The idea I'm trying to bring out is that whichever the question we choose, we need to follow the instinct into more questions that make the bigger problem smaller-and-simpler to analyze. If we are not doing that, we are clearly getting lost towards the worldly, if not directly into it!
Anyone who's tried a little bit of this going around the *consciousness-hunt* would know that the I doesn't answer on its own. Only a deluded fool would make-believe oneself (or worse still, others) that I know from where I arise or who am I! From
yasyAmataM tasyAmataM mataM yasya na veda saH |
avijnAtaM vijAnatAM vijnAtaM avijAnataM || Kena 2.3 ||
we can get a gist that *one who thinks he knows, knows not*. So there are simpler Vedantik truths hidden in other questions that arise from Whence am I? This is common to the second issue dealt with below, so it will be listed later in a set of self-answering questions.
ii) Whence is avidyA?
To even pose this is a big achievement on one hand and a big stumbling stupidity on the other; the former because one knows what avidyA is, while the latter since one is stuck with a question of the order of solvable magnitude of Who am I? or Whence am I?
Lets try to see what avidyA is and then the whence about it. avidyA in plain vanilla English means ignorance, which in plain vanilla dictionary terms means lack of knowledge. So, in our journey, its to ask lack of knowledge of what? Thats the initial question that we began with. So avidyA is lack of knowledge of who I am or whence am I! A common question, even so invalid, pops up for a lot of us: why am I ignorant, (or properly put, ) unaware of myself? which in eventuality, could be read as: since when am I ignorant?
For both of these, there's supporting questioning that we need to do: do we ever ask ourselves, why am I ignorant about, say, German (language)? Or since when am I ignorant of German? The only valid answer to this question would be: since ever, beginningless. So too with ignorance, its beginningless avidyA.Now, moving back to our original problem of whence is this avidyA, we lead to the self-answering questioning that was arrived at even in (i) above. These are:
Whence is the sweetness of the sugar candy?
Whence is the saltness of sea water?